Law Enforcement

Inside Shocking Elijah McClain Lawsuit Against Aurora

A portrait of the late Elijah McClain.
A portrait of the late Elijah McClain. Family of Elijah McClain
Given that Elijah McClain died back on August 30, 2019, after an agonizing and wholly unnecessary encounter with Aurora police officers, many people probably think they're beyond the point of being shocked by the case. But the lawsuit filed on behalf of McClain's estate by attorney Mari Newman of Denver-based Killmer, Lane & Newman, LLP, puts the lie to that assumption.

The enormous, 106-page document goes into a level of specificity that's absolutely stunning, beginning with a heartrending transcript of McClain's words while under attack.

It reads: "I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe please. I can’t. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe, please stop. [Groans of pain]. I have my ID right here. I have my ID right (inaudible). My name is Elijah McClain. That’s all. That’s what I was doing. I was just going home. I’m an introvert and I’m different. [Sobbing]. I just (inaudible). I’m just different. I’m just different, that’s all. That’s all I was doing. I’m so sorry. I have no gun. I don’t do that stuff. I don’t do any fighting. Why were you attacking me? I don’t do guns. I don’t even kill flies. I don’t eat meat…. I am [ ] a vegetarian. I don’t judge people for anything. I try to live (inaudible), and I respect all life. Forgive me. All I was trying to do was become better…. But I’ll do it. I’ll do it. .... To help all life. I will do (inaudible). Even if I have to sacrifice my identity. I’ll do it. I’ll do it. You all are phenomenal. You are beautiful. [Groans of pain]. Forgive me. …. [Cry of pain]. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. Ow. Ow, that really hurt. You guys are very strong. Teamwork makes the dream work. [Sobbing]. Ow that hurts. (Multiple very quiet, inaudible statements). Oh yeah I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to do that. I can’t breathe correctly because — [Vomiting] …. Ok, ok…I can’t sense myself. Ow! Ah! Ow! Stop please!... I’m trying…. Please help me."

Asked about the biggest discoveries made during preparations for the lawsuit, Newman responds, "There was so much wrongdoing that we uncovered during the course of our investigation over the past almost-year, I can't even catalogue it all." However, she draws attention to "the false claim of aggravated assault against Elijah that was exposed. All the officers later testified that he didn't try to strike them, didn't try to kick them, he didn't try to hurt any officer in any way whatsoever. So there was no basis whatsoever for this false charge. It was simply designed to villainize an innocent young man who they murdered."

The City of Aurora is the lead defendant in the lawsuit, which was filed in United States District Court for the District of Colorado on August 11. Others named include Aurora Police officers Nathan Woodyard, Randy Roedema, Jason Rosenblatt, Matthew Green, Alicia Ward, Kyle Dittrich, Erica Marrero, James Root, Jordan Mullins-Orcutt and Darren Dunson, sergeants Alicia Ward and Rachel Nunez, and Lieutenant Peter Cichuniec, plus paramedic Jeremy Cooper and Dr. Eric Hill.

Aurora has not yet commented on the lawsuit, but city officials have been busy trying to look responsive on other fronts, including a ballyhooed comprehensive review of the police department, also announced August 11. At the same time, however, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser revealed that his office is doing a civil-rights investigation of the Aurora Police Department separate from its look into McClain's death and a federal probe that's been under way since last year.

Newman describes the lawsuit as "very thorough in the way it lays out in excruciating detail the way the Aurora police tortured Elijah over the course of about eighteen minutes, the multiple different kinds of force they inflicted, their profound brutality, the illegal ketamine administration by the Aurora medics, including a pattern of improperly giving an overdose of 500 milligrams without taking into account the patient's weight, which is incredibly dangerous and can, as we've seen, be fatal. It also outlines in page and verse Aurora's legacy of brutality and racism, citing cases going back as far as 2003 and up to just last week — because Aurora simply will not stop brutalizing innocent civilians, and particularly black civilians.

"This is the way Aurora, Colorado, has been doing business for decades," Newman continues. "What we have seen as civil-rights lawyers, and what the community has seen, is that Aurora is brutal and racist and will not take accountability for its conduct. The statistical analysis shows that even though black people make up only about 16 percent of the Aurora population, they're subjected to brutality at a massively disproportionate pace even though they're less dangerous than the white people who are arrested. Aurora has a pernicious and longstanding problem, so it's not surprising that it continues to do what it has been doing for decades."

If Aurora follows past practices, it will drag out the McClain complaint for as long as possible before paying loads of taxpayer money to prevent the matter from being heard in court. Asked about this prospect, Newman replies, "As a trial lawyer, I, of course, love the jury system, and love giving the citizenry the opportunity to participate in one of the most important roles they play in a democracy. But at the same time, I know the legal process is very, very difficult for the families. So my hope is that Aurora will do the right thing and stand up and take accountability for murdering an innocent young man. That's what it owes to this community and to this family."

Otherwise, she concludes, "a jury will ultimately determine what it's going to take to finally force Aurora to change its brutal and racist policing after so many decades of consistently bad behavior."

Click to read Estate of Elijah McClain v. City of Aurora, et al.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts